International Association for Impact Assessment

Education and Training in Impact Assessment

Edited By: Bridget

Overview & History


Training is usually considered as a contrastive concept to education, if not as its polar extreme. A classical although not consensual definition of education is adopted by Unesco: "the organized and sustained instruction designed to communicate a combination of knowledge, skills and understanding valuable for all activities of life". Training, on the other hand, is most usually associated with the world of work (Ollagnier, 2005). Training can be defined as "the procedure whereby knowledge is transmitted with an instrumental and operational vision of the learning process and of its expected results" or as "a planned and systematic sequence of instruction under supervision, designed to impart skills, knowledge, information and attitudes" (Jarvis, 1999). However, training has itself a vast array of meanings. Traditionally it has been associated with apprenticeship (Winch and Clarke, 2008). Nowadays its meanings stand from teaching someone how to perform relatively simple tasks to preparing someone for new job challenges, but some commentators consider that "the differences between education and training have always been exaggerated and the most reputable training programs are education as much as training" (Moura Castro and Oliveira, 1994).

In impact assessment (IA) a common meaning of training is the transmittal of information, knowledge, and sometimes skills on the purpose, legal requirements, procedures, approaches and tools relative to the process of identifying the future consequences of a current or proposed action. Training activities are normally aimed at professionals or practitioners. Education, by contrast, aims at instructing graduate or postgraduate students, usually in fields such as environmental science or engineering, environmental or regional planning, geography, social and biological sciences, among others, on the same evaluative process.

As impact assessment involves the use of independent and informed judgement, both education and training are necessary to develop the necessary formal and soft skills for its practice. Continuing education is a term normally used to designate the understanding that in the contemporary world, higher education is not enough to ensure the acquisition of skills to a professional life.


Training and capacity building has been a part of impact assessment since its inception. Teaching impact assessment in colleges and universities started soon after environmental impact assessment (EIA) was institutionalized in the United States with Congress passing NEPA (National Environmental Policy Law) in 1969. The first courses were being taught in at least two US Universities as early as in 1972 and 1973. Also in 1973, environmental impact assessment started being taught in Canada, South Africa and Italy, despite these countries not having EIA legislation.

In several public and private organizations of many countries, EIA was first introduced by external consultants by means of training courses or capacity-building programs aimed at professionals involved in project planning or at public officials in governmental environment or health agencies. During the 1980s the training seminar organized by the Centre for Environmental Planning and Management at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, partly sponsored by the World Health Organization, played an important role in disseminating EIA in both developed and developing countries (Bisset and Tomlinson, 1985).

World Wide

As EIA requirements are worldwide spread, so do IA professionals and IA practice. Nowadays, environmental impact assessment, strategic environmental assessment and other forms of impact assessment are taught at many Universities in every continent and textbooks are available at major languages. In addition, there are regular or occasional training programs in several countries.

Education: teaching future professionals

In spite of the worldwide dissemination of impact assessment academic teaching, Stelmack et al. (2005) found professional training on EIA to be much better documented than academic education.

Gazzola (2008) reviewed 64 master programs related to environmental assessment in nine European countries and Stelmack et al. (2005) identified 40 universities in Canada offering environmental assessment courses.

Gazzola hypothesized that "the existence of common environmental assessment policy and legal frameworks [in the European Union] and of the methodological suggestions portrayed in the international environmental assessment literature do not ensure a common understanding of environmental assessment." She concluded that the way in which environmental assessment is taught in Europe is related to how it is practiced and understood in different countries, rather than its practice and understanding being dependent on environmental assessment (EA) education. She also found different approaches to teaching EA in Europe, broadly based on social sciences or on physical sciences. In Europe, most IA courses at master's level are hosted by engineering, environmental science and planning departments. Most of the Universities surveyed feature EA courses or modules as part of broader master programmes. "Master programmes with EA as the principal subject were found in four countries - Italy, Spain, France and the UK".

In the 2008 IAIA Conference held in Perth, Australia, eleven lecturers from ten countries shared their teaching experience. Prof. Larry Canter, formerly from the University of Oklahoma, United States, and one of the pioneers in formal environmental assessment teaching, synthesized many aspects relevant to impact assessment education: 

  • topics covered ranged from fundamental process to advanced analysis of specific impact issues, whereas new emphasis related to cumulative effects assessment and adaptive management emerged;
  • teaching modes now involve e-learning and topical webinars
  • there are fundamental principles which transcend country or regional boundaries; both analysis and synthesis are needed for the preparation of impact assessment documents; communication of impact assessment information to a wide variety of audiences is a special professional challenge to practitioners
  • case studies along with the results of litigation can be useful tools for teaching about EIA practice.

As put in the report of the IAIA 08 education session: effective IA requires well qualified professionals. Educators have a key role in enhancing impact assessment effectiveness. 

Training: impact assessment for professional development

Training has been associated with impact assessment since its beginnings. Introducing new legal requirements and new tools to practitioners is often carried out by training or continuous education programs, and IA is no exception.

Short courses on EIA were offered as early as in 1970 in the United States, following NEPA approval. Nowadays, the US Army Corps of Engineers, a Federal government agency deeply involved with environmental impact assessment is an example of a government agency which features a number of training programs.

When the European Directive on EIA came into force in July 1998, the European Commission estimated that at 2000 people, among then decision-makers, EIA project managers and technical specialists, needed to be initially trained (Clark, 1999).

Changing laws and regulations often call for training programs. For example, when the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act was introduced in 1992, the then newly constituted Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) prepared training packages in order to inform government officials and impact professionals by “training the trainers”. The CEAA website regularly features training opportunities.

A similar approach is used to disseminate impact assessment requirements in other jurisdictions or procedures adopted by financial agents such as the International Finance Corporation, whose environmental and social “Performance Standards” became a benchmark for the environmental and social review of many private investment projects worldwide.

Capacity building sessions have been featured in several IAIA Conferences. Several organizations promote capacity building in developing countries, including bilateral development agencies such as the Canadian International Development Agency and the German GTZ, and multilateral agencies such as the World Bank. Training contents may be generic and introductory or cover specific fields of impact assessment such as health impact assessment and strategic environmental assessment.

Learning and training opportunities are offered by a number of organizations. Besides offering short courses at every annual conference, IAIA has been running since 2004 its “Capacity Building in Biodiversity and Impact Assessment” program, aimed at promoting good practice in biodiversity and IA. In addition, IAIA maintains an EIA Training Course Database, an information sharing tool about training courses and programs from around the world.

Clark (1999) sees three types of professional training in EIA: short courses, on the job training and training the trainers, the latter aimed specifically at developing countries.


IAIA Conferences regularly carry sessions on training and capacity building. The 2008 Conference held in Perth, Australia, featured a session on teaching and education. (See Abstracts of CS4.2 EIA/SEA Teaching and Education session held at IAIA 2008 Conference in Perth, Australia:


  • Bisset, R, Tomlinson, P. EIA training courses organized by the Centre for Environmental Management and Planning, University of Aberdeen: an analysis of experience. Environmental Impact Assessment Review 5: 279-281 1985.
  • Clark, B.D. Capacity building. In: J. Petts (ed.) Handbook of Environmental Impact Assessment, vol. 2, p. 35-54. Blackwell Science, Oxford, 1999.
  • Gazzola, P. Trends in education in environmental assessment: a comparative analysis of European EA-related Master programmes. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal 26: 148-158, 2008.
  • Jarvis, P. International Dictionary of Adult and Continuing Education. Kogan Page, London, 3rd ed., 1999.
  • Moura Castro, C.B.; J.B. Oliveira. Training and education, convergence between. In: T.N. Posttlethwaite (ed.) The International Encyclopedia of Education. Pergamon, Kidlington, 2nd ed., 1994.
  • Ollagnier, E. Training. In: L.M. English (ed.) International Encyclopedia of Adult Education. Palgrave-Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2005.
  • Stelmack, CM, Sinclair, AJ, Fitzpatrick, P. An overview of the state of environmental assessment education at Canadian universities. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education 6: 36–53, 2005.
  • Winch, C.; Clark, L. Training. In: G. McCulloch; D. Cook (eds.) The Routledge International Encyclopedia of Education. Routledge, Abingdon

Online Guides

Health Impact Assessment in Practice, a free e-learning course provided by Health Scotland in collaboration with the World Health Organization, see

United Nations Environment Program Environmental Impact Assessment Training Resource Manual, Second Edition, 2002, available at

Government Websites

<p>Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency training opportunities announced in <a href="" target="_blank"></a> <br /> <br /> United States Army Corps of Engineers training opportunities announced in <a href="" target="_blank"></a> </p>

University Websites

<p>United Nations University and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology jointly developed an open educational resource on EIA, bases on the UNEP EIA training manual. see <a href="" target="_blank"></a> </p>


Special thanks to Luis E. Sánchez for providing initial content for this IAIA Wiki topic.

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